Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Building The Shed

Well the shed arrived last Thursday, direct from Shire.

I have to say that I wasn't impressed by the delivery service. The driver pulled up and had the shed wrapped up on the back of a truck, with a crane. It took him around 45 minutes to unload the shed. Towards the end I had to go and help him as he very nearly dropped it on my Dad's car, despite me asking the driver if the car needed to be moved, which he said it did not. He used two large bands around the palet containing the shed, and as he lifted it, the shed nearly slid off the end. A very poor start, but we got there in the end.

After he left and I started unwrapping I noticed a lot of broken pieces. Thankfully as it turned out it wasn't as bad as it looked, and there were ample spare parts.

One thing I will say: Shire sheds have the WORST instructions ever, they really may as well not bother sending them out. The entire instructions seem to be the same for their entire product lineup as many of the points were totally irrelevant. The wording was pretty poor (e.g 'Drill hole aprx 50 centers from the side' and 'Place WT next to WA and line up WC at the end', without any instructions saying what 'WT' 'WA' or 'WC' was).

Had the instructions been written by someone a little more competent, the shed would have been up within 2 days. As it stood, it took three.

The actual building went together fairly easily. The logs locked together well, and I was very glad that I had opted for the thicker wood (44mm instead of 34mm) as it provided a fantastic seal. I highly recommend going for 44mm or thicker wood. The walls are solid.

A few minor annoyances I found were that the window only has a standard latch at the bottom, with no handle to lock it further up the window, meaning someone could easily get a crowbar in the top of the window and pop it open. I've bought a few extra locks to secure the window properly.

I've also got to sand a little off the window and door as they catch ever so slightly, nothing too major though.

If you take a look at the photos (on the right of the blog, or directly at flickr by clicking HERE) you can see the photos so far.

At this point the basic shell is complete, the shed is up and painted. Next I'm going to be adding insulation to the floor. I was going to go for 100mm Celotex but the floor isn't thick enough for that, so have opted for 50mm which should still be plenty thick enough. That's arriving tomorrow and once laid I can put the floor boards down and then start work on the stud walls.

To wrap a few points up on the actual shed. It is a Shire Dean Log Cabin at 12ft deep by 8ft wide. I purchased it from Elbec Garden Buildings, but it is also sold by Summer Log Cabins and a few others.

Would I recommend Shire again? Yes, however be prepared to get VERY frustrated with the instructions, and also be prepared to help the delivery driver who seemed a bit flustered (wasn't really his fault, his truck had clearly been overloaded).

Ideally Shire need to work on both the packaging and documentation side of things. There were a number of dents and minor splits. Thankfully I was able to make sure there were on the inside (as they will be covered by the insulation/plasterboard) however I can imagine that there are likely a number of times that the boards arrive badly damaged beyond being usable.

Anyway, in my next post I'll be going through the floor and then the stud walls!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Base

The base of a log cabin is very important as it has a number of major structural effects. If the load isn't correctly balanced, your cabin may warp or even break. I did a fair amount of research before picking my base.

One thing to note with my build is that I was placing the new log cabin in place of an old shed, which was sat on paving slabs. Today, I broke a hole in the old shed floor to inspect the state of its base. While I wont be laying my cabin on the existing slabs, I needed to see how the ground was. Thankfully it was completely bone dry (surprising considering we've had the wettest few weeks in years!). With this in mind, I can now dismantle the old shed, leaving the ground covered with a tarpaulin sheet until the rain stops and I can lay the new base.

I'll explain in detail what I'm planning to do later in this post, but first, lets talk about the different types of base that can be used for a log cabin or garden office.

Choosing A Base

The first base type is the most obvious: 

Concrete Base

A concrete base is probably the most stable way to set up any shed. If you choose to go for a concrete base, you first need to dig out the land and level it, then place wooden shutter boards around the edge, do measurements throughout to make sure you've got the right size. 

Once your shuttering is in place, lay a damp proof membrane. This will stop anything coming up through the concrete and help to keep it dry. 

You can now lay your concrete. Depending on how heavy your building is will depend on how thick it should be. Realistically most garden office / log cabin structures are fine with 4 inches (10 cm). You can use ready-mixed bags from the likes of Wickes and Homebase if you wish, these work fine. Its usually best to see if you can get a deal on a wet concrete delivery as in some cases it can be cheaper. I personally wasn't able to find a good deal on this for my build when I first started researching.

There are a few important points to note with a concrete base:
  • Try not to make your base any bigger than your shed. This encourages water to collect.
  • Ideally, you should try and have the base above ground, so it's effectively 4 inches of raised concrete. This does wonders to stop water.
  • The concrete can take up to a month to fully set, however in most cases should be fine to build on after 48 hours.
  • Concrete actually loves water, so dont be too worried if it rains after you've laid it, it'll only make your base stronger.
  • If you are extending an existing concrete base, drill into the sides of the old base and add metal supports, this will help bond the two bases together and prevent them separating.

Wooden Base

I cant stress how much of a bad idea this is if you want your log cabin to last. A wooden base has very little support and will basically be completely rotten within a few years. I'm not going to go into detail on how to erect a wooden base, however I can only say this: dont do it.

Rased Concrete Base

Think about how a pier works, this method works in a similar fashion. You basically create concrete elevated molds (you can buy them ready made) and then place your wooden base on top of these, raising the log cabin up significantly. 

The idea is that you add these concrete blocks under the base, and it created a strong foundation, way off of the ground. 

A very similar method is offered by a few select garden companies that uses metal pads and poles to raise the base.

Plastic Base

Now, this is the method I chose to go with. But before I go into detail, you need to know that there are more than one type of plastic base. There is 'Ecobase' style bases which aren't very thick (between 3 and 6 cm) and a more stable variation called 'HawkLok' or sometimes 'Forest Plastic Base', this is a much thicker, sturdier method where instead of ramming pea shingles into each hold (presumably to hold everything together), the plastic 'pads' each lock into each other, creating a sold, strong pad which acts much like a solid concrete pad. 

When I first looked into this, I immediately dismissed a plastic base as being a bad idea, but the HawkLok style bas is actually pretty clever. It's been tested to apparently support over 28 tons per pad, and can be moved around and reused. For me, it worked out cheaper than a concrete base, and allows me to put it together myself in a matter of hours.

You start by digging out your plot (which is actually optional if you want the shed rased even more). You then place a layer of sand (again, optional but recommended) followed by a damp-proof membrane. You then lay your plastic bads on the membrane and lock them into place, once done you can move it around to get the correct position.

At this point, the base is complete...much quicker and simpler. I'll be doing a full review (and walkthrough) of the base once I get started (assuming the rain actually stops at some point!!)

I had many discussions with members of DIY forums and like myself, many thought the plastic bases were a silly idea and were only intended for small, light sheds, but they work just as well as a concrete base, and theoretically should be even better as they allow for a bit more air circulation, shouldn't get anywhere near as cold as concrete does, and can be reused. Only time will tell just how good they are though!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Choosing a Log Cabin

I spent a LOT of time researching which log cabin I wanted. The biggest issue I found was getting answers to a few critical questions:

1) How thick is the wood used?
2) Does the thickness of the wood really make that much of a difference?
3) What kind of windows and doors do I need?
4) What sort of insulation do I need?
5) Will this be way too cold to use in the winter?

I joined several DIY forums including DIYBanter and DIYNot. I got some awesome advice from people on there who were a lot more experienced than I was (the most DIY I've ever done is fixing a bedroom door that wouldn't close!) who were able to point me in the right direction.

Picking The Log Thickness

I opted for a 44mm wood. Whilst I've seen some others get away with 28mm, I wanted the extra thickness as you get an extra groove out of the wood. Take a look at the picture below and you'll see what I mean.

If you look at this picture, you'll see that the 28mm and 34mm wood, only has a single tongue and groove system, whereas the 44mm and 70mm have a double T&G system. This not only makes the wood stronger, as it locks together better, but also adds an extra water barrier, and basically provides a better outer insulation layer.

Initially I looked at a 28mm cabin from Tiger Log Cabins, however ended up opting for a Shire Dean Log Cabin from Elbec Garden Buildings (also sold by Summer Log Cabins). This allowed me to go for the 44mm wood.

Windows & Doors

Since this room is going to be used as an office, I need it to be relatively secure. Generally sheds (and even log cabins) come with either plexiglass/plastic or single layer glass windows. This really wasn't going to be secure enough. The same usually happens with the door. You generally get a thin, flimsy wooden door that really is next to useless if you plan on using the building as anything other than a shed.

As I mentioned above, I chose a Shire Dean Log Cabin. The great thing I found about this model is that you can have double glazed windows and doors. Thats not to say that this is the only model that offers this. Tiger Log Cabins offers it across most of their cabins, and a number of cabins from Dunster House and Garden Buildings Direct also offer full double glazing.

Ultimately you should go for Double Glazing (or toughened double glazing if offered) and it'll not only improve security but also insulation.

I'll be covering the base and insulation in my next post so stay tuned!

Welcome to the blog

Welcome to the first, in what will hopefully be many posts. My name is Rick and I'm a self-employed web developer, mobile app developer, online 'handy-man' or at least something along those lines.

I've been working from home since I left University a few years ago, and basically work out of a bedroom, which is not ideal. Distractions are aplenty with a dog, 2 cats and a parrot constantly trying to get your attention, it makes concentrating and getting 'in the zone' while working virtually impossible.

A few months ago I started looking at ways to get rid of these distractions so I could focus and commit time to actually getting some real work done. I toyed with the idea of converting our garage into an office, but this really wouldn't solve the issue. I'd still be in the house, which is full of distractions. I needed to get away from the house.

This lead me to look at a garden office. At first I started looking at the big garden office companies, Henley, Roomworks, Smart Garden Offices, etc. I got all the brochures, and had a good look through them all. The problem is...they cost a fortune! I quite simply couldn't afford to spend £8,000+ on this. They look fantastic, and are well built, but for me, the cost of them made them totally unviable. When I did find some lower-end cheaper ones, they didn't look too attractive at all, more like a temporary hut (e.g the 'Micro Garden Office' by Smart Garden Offices. The inside looks great, but it looks pretty awful from the outside.

After some extensive research, it turns out that once you've got all your details sorted correctly, its actually quite a simple process to convert a box-standard log cabin into a garden office. So, thats what I'm doing.

As of writing this, I've decided on a log cabin, on how it'll be insulated, etc and will post about these things individually in other blog posts.

I'm hoping that this blog will serve as a useful base to share ideas and any pitfalls that may will occur during the build, so I can hopefully warn people of any potential 'gotchas' before they bite!

So, stick with me and with any luck I'll soon have a garden office built, complete with photos, info and guides for anyone reading this!